Spatial Distribution of Crusts in Antarctic and Greenland Snowpacks and Implications for Snow and Firn Studies

alexander.weinhart [ at ]


The occurrence of snowpack features has been used in the past to classify environmental regimes on the polar ice sheets. Among these features are thin crusts with high density, which contribute to firn stratigraphy and can have significant impact on firn ventilation as well as on remotely inferred properties like accumulation rate or surface mass balance. The importance of crusts in polar snowpack has been acknowledged, but nonetheless little is known about their large-scale distribution. From snow profiles measured by means of microfocus X-ray computer tomography we created a unique dataset showing the spatial distribution of crusts in snow on the East Antarctic Plateau as well as in northern Greenland including a measure for their local variability. With this method, we are able to find also weak and oblique crusts, to count their frequency of occurrence and to measure the high-resolution density. Crusts are local features with a small spatial extent in the range of tens of meters. From several profiles per sampling site we are able to show a decreasing number of crusts in surface snow along a traverse on the East Antarctic Plateau. Combining samples from Antarctica and Greenland with a wide range of annual accumulation rate, we find a positive correlation (R2 = 0.89) between the logarithmic accumulation rate and crusts per annual layer in surface snow. By counting crusts in two Antarctic firn cores, we can show the preservation of crusts with depth and discuss their temporal variability as well as the sensitivity to accumulation rate. In local applications we test the robustness of crusts as a seasonal proxy in comparison to chemical records like impurities or stable water isotopes. While in regions with high accumulation rates the occurrence of crusts shows signs of seasonality, in low accumulation areas dating of the snowpack should be done using a combination of volumetric and stratigraphic elements. Our data can bring new insights for the study of firn permeability, improving of remote sensing signals or the development of new proxies in snow and firn core research.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.3389/feart.2021.630070

Cite as
Weinhart, A. H. , Kipfstuhl, S. , Hörhold, M. , Eisen, O. and Freitag, J. (2021): Spatial Distribution of Crusts in Antarctic and Greenland Snowpacks and Implications for Snow and Firn Studies , Frontiers in Earth Science, 9 , p. 630070 . doi: 10.3389/feart.2021.630070

[thumbnail of feart-09-630070.pdf]

Download (2MB) | Preview

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Geographical region

Research Platforms


Edit Item Edit Item